BLACKHAWKS (11-11-2) at DUCKS (10-10-3)
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Chicago 4-5-1; Anaheim 5-3-2
Chicago took its only previous meeting with Anaheim this season, pulling out a 3-2 win on Viktor Stalberg
's goal with 28 seconds remaining in overtime on Nov. 14 at the United Center.
As the Hawks struggle to find some consistency and work their way back up the standings, they'll hope a visit to stumbling Anaheim will cure what ails them.
With the Hawks in the homestretch of their annual circus trip, the results so far have been mixed to say the least. Chicago has experienced a feast-or-famine road swing, alternating wins with losses while taking its two wins by a combined score of 12-1 and falling in its two losses by a combined score of 12-4. Depending on the given night, a different team seems to have shown up at each stop over the past two weeks, and if the Blackhawks are to climb out of what is looking like a deeper and deeper hole in the Central Division they have to determine which team they are. While Chicago only trails first-place Detroit by four points, the Red Wings have an astonishing five games in hand, making the road back considerably longer.
While the offense has struggled to produce in Chicago's two losses on the current trek, starting goaltender Marty Turco's play might be an even larger concern. Turco was brought in to fill the void left by jettisoned Stanley Cup-winning backstop Antti Niemi, but despite strong stretches, he has only won one of his last five starts, while giving up a total of 11 goals his last two times out. To make his difficulties sting even more, it was Niemi at the other end of the ice for San Jose Wednesday night keeping the Hawks at bay. While all goalies are prone to tough periods, if Turco's bad luck continues, it may be time to give backup Corey Crawford
, who has won his last two starts, a longer look.
Having not played since Sunday night, the Ducks will have had quite the layoff before hosting the Hawks Friday, but that may be a good thing. Since Anaheim had its six-game winning streak snapped in Chicago on Nov. 14, the Ducks have dropped five straight. No doubt the team is hoping the extended break and Thursday's turkey will have eased the building stress at Honda Center, but the most significant key to solving the Ducks' woes likely falls with netminder Jonas Hiller
. The Swiss goalie is typically among the League's strongest, but lately Hiller hasn't appeared his usual self. His last four starts have left him on the short side of the ledger while ballooning his goals-against average to an uncharacteristically high 2.87.
Despite falling in the first two games of a brief three-game homestand, the Ducks have still managed to apply some offensive pressure. Bobby Ryan
continues to develop into one of the League's best young forwards, with goals in each of the last two games, while Saku Koivu
has managed to equal the feat. Perhaps even more impressive is the presence of the ageless Teemu Selanne, who at 40 years old, has 8 goals and 14 points through 22 games this year, including a current three-game point streak.
Who's hot: Marian Hossa
endured a brutal cold streak earlier this month, failing to reach the score sheet in seven games, but the winger has been a potent force since, tallying seven points in his last five games. ... Corey Perry
has been the anchor of the Ducks' offense this month with 12 points in his last 12 games.
Selanne is listed as questionable for the Ducks with a groin injury. The Blackhawks should have a full roster.
The more shots you face, the harder it is to keep all of them out of the net, and Hiller seems have learned that theory all too well this season. His high GAA might be less a product of his own abilities than the porous defense in front of him, as the Ducks surrender an average of 34.9 shots per game, third worst in the League. Expect an even busier night for Hiller Friday: the Hawks' average of 33.5 shots per game is tied with Detroit for the second most in the NHL.
While the defending champs have shown flashes of the brilliance that carried them to a title this spring, the Hawks are still on the outside looking in at the West's top eight. Four months remain in the regular season, leaving the Hawks with plenty of time to right the ship, but if they don't start to turn the tide Friday in Anaheim or Saturday in Los Angeles, the question may start to become if the Blackhawks catch fire, not when.